For an Olympic Peace

IssueSeptember 2012
Feature by Pat Gaffney

‘The ideal of the Olympic Truce can itself be a sign that if it is possible to live without conflict for today, it might be possible to live without conflict tomorrow. But I need to invest in this peace, by laying down my own arms, and by joining hands with my neighbour, especially those I am most fearful and suspicious of.’ said Bishop Stephen Cottrell, speaking at a service in June at Chelmsford cathedral, welcoming the opportunity of peace-making through the Olympics.

This was one of a number of initiatives taken by faith groups to build on this ideal and challenge the government and the London Olympic committee (LOCOG) to live up to the grand words they supported in presenting a resolution at the UN calling for a the truce during these Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Under the banner ‘100 days of Peace’, faith, peace & justice and community groups came together with the aim of getting schools, places of worship and communities involved in work for peace. Pax Christi was one of these groups which began preparations in 2010, producing educational resources, workshops, training days and opportunities to celebrate too.

Release Peace is the title of the booklet for schools that offered lesson plans on the Olympic Truce of ancient Greece, peace through the arts, the Olympics and politics, organising for peace locally, global peace-making, how to write and speak about peace and many other themes. This went out to every Catholic school in Greater London and was made available for others too. I contributed to in-service days around this, helping teachers to see the depth to which a culture of militarism permeates our lives, and the Games themselves, as a way of setting out the educational challenges.

Teachers valued an opportunity to articulate their own concerns and share the difficulties of confronting militarism in schools. They also valued the ‘depth’ we were giving to the Olympics – a change from designing sports gear and menus for Olympic athletes!

Getting feedback from schools is never easy but we know of some activities. One school created a Peace Tent in their grounds where they presented poetry they had written on the theme. Another released 370 balloons with messages of peace for people all over the world and created huge peace banners to drape off the school’s balcony. Several schools focused on local issues of violence, building on the City Safe Project, undertaking surveys of violence in their area and engaging with shop owners to invite them to create safe havens for children and young people threatened by violence.

Eighteen churches and three cathedrals around London are using the large Pax Christi ICON of Peace as a focal point during the 100 Days, the idea being to create a ring of prayer for peace around London. The ICON, created in Jerusalem, depicts peacemakers and stories from scriptures familiar to Jewish, Muslim and Christian traditions. Many churches developed week-long programmes around this, from talks on the conflict in Israel-Palestine to hearing from parents of children killed by violence in London and opportunities for inter-faith discussion on peace.

In one part of London, churches and mosques came together to have fun at a community Olympic games. Several churches have made Peace Gardens during the 100 Days of Peace – turning waste ground into a place of welcome and tranquillity and drawing on the international richness of their communities by inviting people to create paths and walls with peace words in many languages or tell stories of peace-making from their different traditions.

We publicly challenged LOCOG about the use of armed services in the medal ceremonies, pointing out that parading military personnel would give a strongly nationalistic message to what is an international gathering and highlighting the hypocrisy and insensitivity of using the armed forces in this way when so many in our world live with the reality of war and conflict which is driven by the military. While they could not fully agree with us it is interesting to note that these ceremonies have not been as militarised as they might have been.

All a bit naive, I hear you say? Well, no. It is good to think out of our ‘box’ and find new ways of sharing our passion for peace with others. Staying in our box we miss out on the insights and challenges that others bring. Of course the 100 Days of Peace cannot deliver total peace. But it can offer hope and inspiration and help people to enter the process of building peace.